For over two decades, Dan Gailey has directed the jazz program at the University of Kansas where he's Professor of Music. After enriching the books of many college bands, as well as professional bands, Dan has taken a giant leap out of the Kansas cornfields into the maelstrom of a non-campus environment with the debut release of his 18-man, all professional Dan Gailey Jazz Orchestra.
The curtain-raiser is a prophetically titled swinger, "Audacity," with the whole band seemingly proclaiming "yes we can!" Propelled by drummer Jim White and anchored by baritonist Will Swindler and bassist Erik Applegate, low horns stab downward, high brass pierce upward; trumpeter Vern Sielert, trombonist Paul McKee, and tenorist Peter Sommer contribute first-rate solos. A haunting 5/4 ostinato by guitarist Steve Kovalcheck focuses ears, and eyes, on a series of images from Gailey's Northwest background in "Point No Point." His colors are impressionistic making you wonder how vividly he could paint with a string ensemble. A middle section, in four, features Kovalcheck playing lush licks until the full band offers a more diffuse ostinato that builds powerfully. Unexpectedly, the opening guitar figure returns and eventually fades into the ether. "Early Light," another colorful canvas filled with streaks of dawn, is a vehicle for a master of solo colorations, tenorist Don Aliquo. An impending pedal point sets up a mysterious descending motif. Gailey displays the extremes of his palette in an orchestral backing reaching a climax that re-visits the mysterious motif one last time. A 19th sideman is added, vibist Gray Barrier, for a special timbre, but you'll have to listen carefully; he can be heard doubling the piano in its treble register.
"In A Big Way," following an intro suggestive of "Jeannine," becomes an infectious, rollicking, 12-bar blues shuffle that leaves plenty of stretch-out room for baritonist Swindler and trombonist Dave Glenn. Unison saxes, doubled by bassist Applegate, offer a bop line on the head to which the brass come back with an obligato that creates fugal interplay. When trumpeter Al Hood takes his fine solo, listen for the gusto chomping of guitarist Kovalcheck. Then listen to the very end for a maneuver from the Blue Angels' "book:" a muscular, upward "doit." The back story of the title track -- unusual reveries of native Mexican/Mestizos -- is well explained in the liner notes by Dr. Chuck Berg. Pianist Dana Landry extends the mood; soprano saxophonist John Gunther brilliantly captures its exotica in a solo that sometimes resorts to microtones. Gailey splashes brass clusters and pyramids as drummer White's restless pulsations keep the heat searing. It "sounds" like a Diego Rivera mural. In the closing track, "11th Hour," Gailey pays tribute to Michael Brecker through the rhapsodic chops of tenorist Aliquo, guitarist Kovalcheck and some of the most assertive writing of the session, much in the Latin-flavored spirit of Gerald Wilson.
It's a sensational beginning for Gailey's big band, worthy of all the ballyhoo OA2 can ad lib. Dan's creative ideas (he wrote and arranged all six tracks) place him in the same pantheon occupied by Gil Evans, Maria Schneider, Phil Kelly and Gailey's mentor, Michael Brecker. Yet one has to admire his humility: there's not one solo note from Dan, a highly respected saxophonist. How could he resist the temptation considering he personally chose all sidemen?